An interesting development

According to a recent news article, Vermont, Maine, and Maryland have removed time limits for law suits about sex crimes. Massachusetts, Michigan, and Rhode Island are currently considering such legislation.

What this means is that if you were abused by someone as a child in these three states, you have the rest of your life to sue them for damages. This legislation is in response to the fact that many people repress childhood sexual abuse until mid-life; but prior to this legislation, if you recalled childhood sexual abuse the statute of limitations would have ended and you’d be without legal recourse.

So who’s going to be financially vulnerable as a result of this legislation? Any individual who committed sexual abuse, obviously. But also any institution that harbored sexual abusers. The Roman Catholic Church and the Boy Scouts of America are the two best known such institutions, but there are likely thousands of other institutions that can be held accountable for inadequately protecting children from sexual abuse. This could include local religious organizations, summer camps, and a wide variety of organizations that sponsor youth programs. (Ultimately, I hope this will include sports organizations — I’ve written elsewhere about how sports teams have gotten an easy pass on preventing child abuse, and it’s time we started holding them accountable too.)

Now, I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not in the least qualified to give legal advice. But if I were part of an institution where I had good reason to believe there was a history of covering up or glossing over sexual abuse committed in their programs — whether by volunteers, staff, or clergy — I’d be worried right now. I’d be especially worried if my institution owned substantial assets, such as an endowment or real estate, that would make them an attractive target for a law suit.

I’d also say that anyone who runs any kind of youth program should be super focused on abuse prevention right now. If I were part of a youth program that got sued under these new laws, I’d want to be able to say that my youth program had reformed and was following state-of-the-art child protection policies and procedures.

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